Challenges of wet line fly fishing on still waters

THIS NICE TROUT of just over three pounds was taken on a #14 green chironomid pattern in 28 feet of water. - PHOTO BY RALPH SHAW
THIS NICE TROUT of just over three pounds was taken on a #14 green chironomid pattern in 28 feet of water.
— image credit: PHOTO BY RALPH SHAW

We have enjoyed a long, slow spring with limited temperature rises most of the time, at least up to the present.

For fly fishers who fish with wet lines, this has the effect of extending the season when wet flies continue to produce good results. Conversely, extended periods of warm weather have the effect of producing conditions that make a dry fly fisher happy by producing large insect hatches where trout feed on the surface.

In truth it is rarely a cut and dried choice between types of lines used during the day, but rather a blend of both techniques. Most of the time I fish with wet lines for the simple reason that I find they are much more productive.

Chironomids are a large group of mosquito-like insects that are important trout food. In the larval stage they are called blood worms. They are are also eaten as they emerge as adults; but by far the most important stage of their life to trout is in the pupa stage.

When a chironomid emerges from the larval stage into the pupa stage and begins a slow journey to the surface of the water where it becomes an adult, it is an easy morsel for a feeding trout. They are not large insects by any measure, yet you can catch very large trout on tiny chironomid patterns.

My largest trout on a chironomid pattern was 9-pounds, 2-ounces taken in Plateau Lake. I also had a large trout take my line down to the end of the backing and break off in Peterhope Lake. I netted a 14-pounder taken on #12 brown chironomid pattern for a fellow angler in Pass Lake. These are like small chinook or large coho. My largest fish taken on a #16 chironomid pattern in Spider Lake weighed over 3-pounds, 8-ounces. I know there are bigger trout in that lake, and one of my goals this summer is to connect with one of them on a chironomid pattern.

The broad selection of flies tied in the pupa stage are generally referred to as chironomid patterns. When you consider there are over 1,000 species of chironomids in our waters you get some idea of the huge selection of patterns available. If you look at a chironomid angler's fly box you will be dazzled by the small size and number of different patterns of the same insect.

There are two basic methods of fishing these patterns. One is with a strike indicator on a floating line and the other is with wet line. This column will be about wet line fishing: I will cover strike indicators in another column.

My fly fishing punt is eight-feet long, equipped with two anchors, one at the stern and one on the bow. The two anchors are to keep the boat steady in a breeze while fishing. My seat is raised so I can sit comfortably for hours when fishing with a wet line.

Wet line chironomid fishing requires all the concentration of a chess player, because much of the time you set the hook when you see the line move, do not wait until you feel the bite.

I favour soft 4- to 6-weight, 9-foot rods. I like long leaders up to 12 feet, and  a 4- to 6-pound tip with fluorocarbon leader material. To find places to fish, watch where swallows feed or look for insects emerging on the surface. My anchors are marked at foot-foot spaces so I know how deep the water is. I do not use electronics to find fish, so I occasionally get skunked. I use medium- to fast-sinking lines and time the descent of my fly to the bottom with the second hand of my watch and make appropriate adjustments.

Loop knots are important in tying the fly to the leader. One nice feature of wet line chironomid  fishing is that you do not need long casts. Give it a try – you may find it is addictive.

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A special thank you to all the people who made the last two weeks fishing at the Courtenay and District Fish and Game Club pond such a success. Thank you to Thrifty Foods for the treats.


Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.



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